Tax return scam risk soars

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Tax is on everyone's minds in January. Even if you're not unlucky enough to have to complete a tax return, you will hear about it from everyone - from friends moaning about their huge tax bills to the government's heavy-handed warnings of potential fines for late submission.

Fraudsters are well aware of this, and are making every effort to cash in.

The scam

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is warning taxpayers not to fall victim to 'phishing' emails sent out by fraudsters in the run-up to the self-assessment deadline of 31 January.

The email tells the recipient they are due a tax rebate, and provides a link to a clone of HMRC's website. If you click the link you are told to input your credit card or bank details - supposedly so the money can be credited to you.

In reality, however, the criminals will try to take money from your account or run up debts on your card from the details you enter. Victims risk having their bank accounts emptied and their personal details sold on to other organised criminal gangs.

Protect yourself

In the last three months, HMRC has helped shut down 185 websites that were responsible for sending out the fake tax rebate emails, but there are always more, ready and waiting to take your money if you lower your guard. So it pays to be aware and take every step to protect yourself.

It's worth bearing in mind how the HMRC delivers real rebates. Joan Wood, Director of HMRC Online and Digital says:"We only ever contact customers who are due a tax refund in writing by post. We currently don't use telephone calls, emails or external companies in these circumstances."

If someone contacts you claiming you are due a refund by email or phone, it is therefore safe to assume it is a scam. HMRC says you must not click on the email or the link - under any circumstances - as the link itself may contain a virus.

Your first step should be to visit to see if the email you have received is listed. Then forward the email to and finally, delete the email permanently.

Of course, it's always going to be tempting to believe in a message purporting to be from the taxman and offering you some of your hard-earned cash back. However, it pays to be aware of the risks. This is a taxing enough time of year, without falling prey to the fraudsters.

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